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Today is Autism Awareness Day

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Jackson Sickels at the train depot
Jackson Sickels at the train depot

Today is April 2nd, which is the eighth annual Autism Awareness Day.

As many of you know, my younger son Jackson, age 9, is autistic. He is mainly non-verbal and his sensory perceptions of the world are obviously much different than those experienced by most people. Both his hearing and his sense of taste/smell are unusually sensitive and the experts tell us that the world must seem overwhelming and chaotic to him.

Needless to say, this presents some serious parenting challenges. Those of you who are parents know that raising a typical child isn't easy in the first place, but adding autism to the mix makes it, well, different. It requires some creative thinking especially since he can't, at this point, tell us in what exact ways the world seems stranger to him than it does to us.

One of the strategies we've adopted for helping Jackson navigate the world is a daily walk. After school I take him to the train depot in North Lawrence and walk around for about an hour watching the trains go by. Then we go to the arboretum and walk for another hour looking at the plants and the trees and the geese and the pond. This way he hopefully develops an appreciation for both technology and nature.

It is a wide range of noises and sights every day, a wide range but also predictable to a great extent. He knows he will see a noisy train, but how many? From which direction? What color? He knows he will see the pond but how many geese will there be today? Are the flowers blooming? Etc. I hope this helps him find some order amidst the chaos of the world he perceives.

If you know a family impacted by autism (and you probably do), take some time today and think about the challenges they face. Community support is as important as family support and our society needs to do a lot more to help people with this challenge as well as those who love them.

For more information, you can visit the Autism Society or Autism Speaks.